EducationNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 37

Teachers smothering creativity among students

Thinking of employing pedagogical methods, taught during teacher training programmes for imparting lessons in a classroom, is only a mad idea and nothing else, Muhammad Jabbar*, a senior teacher at a government high school for boys in the suburbs of Lahore on the Multan Road, tells his new colleague, Khwaja Muhammad Usman*. The newly appointed teacher is worried about controlling his class, which consists of 49 students. He cannot stop his students from making a noise in the classroom and throwing paper planes at each other during his almost one-year stint in the school as a social studies and Pakistan studies teacher.

When he shared his problem with some colleagues in the staff room, Muhammad Jabbar came to his rescue with some “golden principles’ of pedagogy and controlling students “effectively’ in a classroom. “You can’t control them through the teaching methods in practice in some developed countries, or being practised by the elite English medium schools of Lahore,” warns the seasoned teacher on the basis of his 16-year experience in the field. “These devils are the offspring of small farmers, labourers, rehriwallahs (street hawkers), and domestic servants, and they know only one language, and that is the language of danda (the rod),” explains Muhammad Jabbar, an Urdu language teacher, with MA/MEd degrees to his credit.

“Never give them a chance to get on your nerves. From day one, tell them how strict a teacher you are. Make the whole class stand up on their desks and tell them not to sit until all of them regurgitate the answers one by one in one go, without stammering,” the senior teacher in his mid-forties tells his junior.

“You may use “guide books” for saving your and your students’ time, as they have arranged all lessons in the form of good questions and their precise and concise answers. And never shy away from using the rod, if you find some “devils” creating any hurdle to the “teaching” process,” Jabbar finishes his advice on the keynote.

Muhammad Jabbar is the member of a hugely large teaching fraternity in Pakistan that believes in the “tried, tested and successful” method of teaching and controlling a class.

“But what would happen to the creativity among your students in this “tried and tested” pedagogical method,” Khwaja Usman was asked. “Yes, this is a crucial question, and I do believe in promoting creativity among students,” the young teacher says. “But the academic lessons and the ground realities are quite contradictory, rather poles apart, in Pakistan,” he tells Cutting Edge shyly. “I am teaching middle and secondary classes, from class 6 to 10, and I find it really hard to employ any new teaching style, which is different from what they have become used to in their previous six-seven years,” Usman expresses his helplessness. He believes that nurturing creativity should start from pre-school and it should be nourished, promoted and polished throughout their schooling. But, he regrets, the situation on the ground is quite the opposite.

Dr. Robina Shaheen did her PhD thesis on the subject, through a survey of 1,008 primary schools. She says that while policy documents mention the introduction of creativity in education, and the curriculum lays emphasis on the concept in a comprehensive manner, designated textbooks and teaching practices do little more than encourage rote learning and regurgitating information.

The measurement of children’s creativity in her study showed that children have the ability to produce ideas which are, at times, also original. But they appear to be weaker in other areas, such as being able to produce abstract titles, and remaining open to going beyond the “ordinary” in their thinking, she tells Cutting Edge. “This is due to the fact that much of teaching is only geared towards knowledge acquisition and not creativity promotion,” she adds.

It is an account of some of those who acquired academic education in the teaching discipline and then were imparted special training and refresher courses time to time to equip them with best pedagogical techniques. Now you think of those who are neither properly qualified nor trained, but are still serving as teachers in a large number of private schools. Their academic qualification ranges from matriculation to a Bachelor’s degree, and in some cases a Master’s degree, mostly in social sciences. A majority of them get hands-on teaching training, and their selection criterion is the monthly wages they ask from school owners at the time of their selection. The less the salary they demand, the more the chances of their getting a teaching job.

According to the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, there are at least 197,626 private schools across the country. As many as 97,810 private schools are functioning in Punjab, 39,850 in Sindh and 29,660 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and almost 50 per cent of students, as per some statistics, study in the private schools.

A survey conducted by Alif Ailaan showed that there are nearly 1.4 million teachers in Pakistan – both in the public and private sectors – of  which 0.65 million (51 per cent) teach in government-run schools, and the remaining are employed by the private schools. And what would happen to creativity and creative thinking among students of these private schools, who are taught by totally untrained teachers, is anybody’s guess?

However, Ms. Nyla Shabbir, a senior teacher at a private school, does not agree that teachers of all private schools are untrained. “Ours is a big school system with our head office on Wahdat Road Lahore, and it has all arrangements in place to impart training to its teaching staff,” says the in-charge of class 9. “Almost all teachers of the school system undergo training and refresher courses during the summer vacation, and they can compete with teachers of any school, public or private, on the basis of their teaching skills,” she claims.

But her claim is not bought fully by Ahmad Moeez*, a parent whose children are studying at a branch of Ms Nyla’s school system. “They might be imparted training on pedagogical methods, but that must have no concern with the promotion of creativity and creative thinking among their students,” Mr. Moeez tells Cutting Edge. “What I see in my children, who are studying in three different classes, this school system only prepares its students for getting good grades in exams,” he explains. It must be acknowledged that students of the school system, and some of its likes, prepare their students very well in rote learning and regurgitation of information, and that is why their students get very good grades in board exams and even secure top positions. But as far as the promotion of creativity and creative thinking among their students is concerned, they are as dumb as students of any other school, believes Ahmad Moeez.